Research laid Ig-Nobelly bare

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 October, 2002, 12:00am

What do asymmetrical testicles, amorous ostriches, belly button lint and a washing machine for cats and dogs have in common?

The answer is simple. They all won gongs in this year's alternative Nobel prizes - the Ig Nobel awards - announced at a Harvard University gala bash last week.

The winners were among a wide range of subjects that formed worldwide research projects considered by Ig Nobel organisers to 'make people laugh, then make them think'.

The UK led the field in biology with a paper published in British Poultry Science with the title Courtship Behaviour of Ostriches Towards Humans Under Farming Conditions in Britain (a study of why farmed ostriches tend to fancy human birds rather than their feathered kind). Physics was represented by research that demonstrates how beer froth obeys the mathematical law of exponential decay, closely followed by an University of Sydney's comprehensive survey of human belly button lint - who gets it, when, what colour, and how much.

Other awards included: maths - An Estimation of the Total Surface Area in Indian Elephants (Kerala Agricultural University, India); literature - The Effects of Pre-Existing Inappropriate Highlighting on Reading Comprehension (University of Nevada-Reno); hygiene - Inventing a washing machine for cats and dogs (Lavakan de Aste, Spain) and medicine - Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture (University College, London).

But the highlight must be the peace prize that rivalled former US president Jimmy Carter's Nobel award. Japan's Kogure Veterinary Hospital took top honours for promoting peace and harmony between species by inventing Bow-Lingual, a computer-based automatic dog-to-human language translation device. Now that's ruff justice!